Sunday, February 10, 2008

SA Sedition Act?

From the preprinted agenda for tonight's meeting:

SA Sedition Act
Author: Senator Ohler
Sponsors: Senator Ohler, Senator Piwarun, Senator Draheim, Senator Kristopeit

Whereas the Student Association at UW-Milwaukee is a venerated institution critical to preserving and expanding student rights, and

Whereas in the recent past some parties have disseminated untrue or otherwise misleading statements about the Student Association, and

Whereas libel and slander are not protected free speech, therefore

Be it resolved that upon evidence of libel or slander communicated by one or more individuals, or by one or more groups, the Student Association shall issue a cease-and-desist order to such entities, and

Be it further resolved that if the aforementioned entities do not cease libelous or slanderous communications regarding the SA after being served, the SA shall pursue civil relief against said parties, and

Be it finally resolved that the SA shall allocate from its reserves for this purpose if and only if no other funding mechanism is available.

I have been asked to comment on this proposed legislation. Here are my thoughts:
1. If the SA is really being libeled or slandered, the Senate has every right to fight against it.

2. However, my past dealings with the SA Senate lead me to believe that the actions the Senators term "libel" or "slander" is probably just dissent, and dissent is a natural part of the democratic process.

3. Therefore, while I support the concept of the bill, I will be very suspicious of any letters sent under its auspices, and extremely suspicious of any civil suit filed.

4. I will be even more suspicious if any such letters are sent my way.

This situation will be monitored here.

1 comment:

Luemas Rellok said...

While i agree with Rabbitball that this is very suspicions, i disagree that the SA has a right to undertake such action. If we are to look at the slew of Supreme Court cases regarding first amendment rights, two spring up rapidly. The first is Sullivan v New York Times co. The second is Hussler v Falwell. While i would greatly enjoy boring you with all the details, you can easily look them up on Google, which I encourage you to do. Hussler particularly has several dozen citations which are of interest in this.

However, two specific statements from the majority decision of both cases are imedeatly reliant.

Sullivan v NYT (sic)
"The constitutional guarantees require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made [376 U.S. 254, 280] with "actual malice" - that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not."

And from Hustler v Falwell (sic)
"We conclude that public figures and public officials may not recover for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress by reason of publications such as the one here at issue without showing in addition that the publication contains a false statement of fact which was made with "actual malice," i. e., with knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard as to whether or not it was true. This is not merely a "blind application" of the New York Times standard, see Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 390 (1967), it reflects our considered judgment that such a standard is necessary to give adequate "breathing space" to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. [485 U.S. 46, 57] "

From both of these decisions, it is clear that persons who hold public office, AND/OR those who chose to be in the public spot light, do not enjoy the ability to sue for damages unless they can show the statements where made without regard for the truth, AND where made specifically to damage them personally.

Further we run into the conflict of interest issues. The SA is chartered to protect the rights of students. The "cooling effect" (the effect of discouraging heated public debate) that this legislation has is clearly counter to the chartered purpose of the SA, as it impinges on the students first amendment right of free speech. Contrary to Mr ohler's assertions, Libel and slander do have LIMITED protection, where in the further inquiry into actual facts relating ot government and its conduct.

Finally, we run into the issue of misappropriation. The funding the SA is using was appropriated with the express purpose of serving the interest of the student body, both as a group and as individuals. To use this funding to attack students critical of the SA runs dangerously close to several definitions of Misappropriation under the Wisconsin criminal codes.

We have already had one SA administration go down on theft charges. we really need two in two years?